This morning I was browsing Reddit (if you’re a teacher and you don’t know what Reddit is, please DO NOT look it up – it has a habit of sucking hours of your life away!) when I came across a user who had posted a long rant about homework.
I won’t reproduce the whole thing here (here’s the link if you want to read it) but the gist of his post was that he feels that as a High School student, being given homework without access to the answers to see if he is on track and without timely feedback, is a total waste of his time.
And perhaps this Reddit post wouldn’t have caught my eye if I hadn’t also had another experience yesterday afternoon that also made me question the value of homework…
Yesterday afternoon, I was standing at the main door to our school as a father collected his daughter.
The first thing he did was ask to see her Learning Log – we have a system where all homework is done in the same book that goes back and forth between school and home.
From listening to their conversation, I gleaned that he wanted to see her teacher’s feedback from her previous homework for 2 reasons:
(a) There had been a creative piece of homework that she had obviously put a TON of effort into and he wanted to see if that effort had been recognised by her teacher
(b) There had been a piece of Maths homework that he hadn’t been able to help her with because the new methods were unfamiliar to him. He wanted to see how his daughter’s teacher had explained it in her response.
He found neither of the things he was looking for.
What he found was a ‘Well done’ stamp on the creative piece and a ‘Getting there’ stamp on the Maths piece.
He was clearly disappointed and annoyed. And it left me thinking…
What is the purpose of homework?
And perhaps more importantly…
Who do children do homework for?
As a teacher, I’ll be honest, homework’s sometimes a complete pain.
I’ll admit that there are times when I have scrambled for homework at the last minute and sent out work that I knew wasn’t carefully thought through.
I also know that there have been times when I’ve realised on Friday lunchtime that I haven’t marked the homework that’s supposed to go home that afternoon and rushed to stamp it while eating my lunch.
Every week I have to set up to five different versions of two pieces of homework to allow for the different ability levels in my class. It takes me ages to mark (especially if it’s Maths) and gives me absolutely no information about what the children can do, as I have no idea how independently they worked.
So, if I’m not getting anything from their homework, who is?
I went looking for our Homework policy and realised that my school is really unclear about why we set homework as well as the expectation of how it will be marked.
I suspect that the same is true in many schools so I sat and laid out a system for homework that I think should work in pretty much any Primary school.
At the very least, it should probably prompt teachers to evaluate the homework that you send home.
The Meaningful Homework System
Firstly, homework should ALWAYS consist of two parts.
- The homework activity.
This is for the children and sets out what you expect them to do for their homework.
- A note for the adult supervising the homework. This second part is so often forgotten but it equally as important.
You should include your expectations about how independently the children should complete the task, any information the parents need to understand the task (e.g. overview of what you have learned) and, if necessary, completed examples so that they can support their children effectively.
Setting Meaningful Homework
There are really only 4 main types of homework:
- Homework for the teachers – used as an assessment tool
- Homework for the students – used to practice their skills
- Homework for parents – to see how their child is progressing
- Homework for learning – investigations or research
And I would argue that any of these types is perfectly acceptable.
For homework to be successful, you need to make sure that…
(a) You are clear of the type of homework when you set it
(b) The children and the parents understand the type of homework you have set
(c) You review and mark the homework appropriately for the type you have set
1. Homework used as an assessment tool
Firstly, if you are setting homework in order to see what the children can do independently, make sure that you communicate this to their parents clearly.
Nothing is a bigger waste of time than a child completing perfect homework meant for assessment because they were spoon fed it by their parents.
This week, the children should work on their homework independently so that they can show you (and me) what they have learned to do on their own.
If they do get stuck and you help them out, please could you make a note of this on their work.
2. Homework used to practice skills
If you are setting homework where you expect the children to practise skills they have learned in school, you can safely assume that a large portion of them will have forgotten them by the time they get home.
And the younger the children, the more likely it is that they will look at their homework as though they’ve never seen anything like it before in their lives!
Almost every weekend, my Facebook feed contains at least one picture of a piece of homework with a plea from a parent for a Primary teacher to identify what on earth it’s about.
Please don’t do this to the parents in your class!
So make sure that you include a completed example (annotated with an explanation if needed) so that parents can help their children out.
3. Homework for parents to see how their child is progressing
Turn the children into the teacher – this is my favourite type of homework!
Parents didn’t learn Maths the way we teach it now. They didn’t learn English the way we teach it now. They don’t know what Talk for Writing is. They don’t understand grid multiplication.
So get the children to teach them!
There are so many benefits to this sort of homework.
- The children get to spend some quality time with their adult
- Nothing embeds something in the children’s heads as much as explaining it to someone else
- You’re bridging the gap between home and school by sharing current teaching methods with the parents
4. Homework for learning
The idea of this type of homework is to ask the children to find things out for themselves and bring their findings into school to share with the class.
With this type of homework, it is particularly important to share your expectations with parents about how much research you expect the children to complete.
This week, your child has been asked to find out more about the life of Henry VIII.
Could you please help them to find the answers to these questions:
– How many wives he had and their names
– One interesting fact about each of his wives
– The fate of each of his wives
– One thing that Henry VIII is remembered for other than having 6 wives
This research could be done either by using books or perhaps the Internet. Some good websites with age-appropriate information are (list websites).
So here’s my challenge to you…
Put your laptop away for 5 minutes and have a think about the homework that you set your class this week. Then answer these questions:
Which of the four types of homework was it?
Did you provide enough information for parents to support their children?
Did you rush your homework out with less thought than you would like?
What changes do you need to make in order to make your homework meaningful?
Homework can add to the children’s learning experience or it can be a pain for teachers, a chore for parents and a waste of time for children.
And it’s up to us to decide to change that.